Article of the Month

December 2008

Hell in the New Testament



It has been reported that, at a recent session of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, Baptists were encouraged to stress two parts of their convictions: 


(1) that there is salvation only in the sin forgiveness available through Jesus and,


(2) that all who do not avail themselves now of this salvation will suffer eternal damnation in the tortures of hell. 


Those familiar with our website know well that we are Biblically convinced that this theology is false and constitutes a horrible affront to the character of God.  While it is true that of Jesus it is written, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” it IS NOT TRUE that acceptance of Jesus must be made now, during this present lifetime.  To the contrary, it is during the Millennium, the “Times of Restitution,” the age in which Jesus returns in order to reign, that mankind will have a REAL OPPORTUNITY to learn of and to learn to love their Messiah.  (Acts 4:12; Acts 3:20-23; I Corinthians 15:21-28)  Thus Paul writes that God has a SPECIAL SALVATION for BELIEVERS (in heaven), but that He also has salvation for all the other currently NON-BELIEVING members of the race.  (I Timothy 4:10; see also John 12:47.)


God does not take people to heaven to save them from hell.  He takes them to heaven to be a part of the promised “seed of Abraham” which will “bless all the families of the earth.”  (Galatians 3:29; Revelation 5:10)  Thus will come to pass the prayer which has been uttered for two thousand years:  “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  Then, “the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called…The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.”   (Isaiah 9:6, 7)  Jesus and his faithful church will constitute the saviors of the rest of the world.  (Obadiah 21; Revelation 14:1)




[The following paragraphs will be based on the King James Bible.  Other translations may translate the words differently from “hell.”]


In the King James translation the New Testament usage of “hell” is from three Greek words—taking absolutely no care in differentiating the meanings.  A quick look at a few facts about “hell” in the New Testament will reveal some thought-provoking truths. 




Hades is the Greek word which is the true equivalent of the Old Testament word for hell.  In the Old Testament the Hebrew equivalent (sheol) is translated “hell,” “grave,” and “pit.”  Its TRUE MEANING is OBLIVION—the state of unconscious but temporary non-existence between dying and awakening in the time of resurrection.  An honest study of all of its uses can reveal no other consistent interpretation.  The meaning does not change when it becomes the “hades” of the New Testament.


It is curious to note that “hades” (for all the import people put on it) occurs ONLY TEN TIMES in the entire New Testament—and, it occurs in ONLY FOUR of the New Testament’s 27 books!  Three of the four are in the Gospels and Acts.  The only other book to mention it is Revelation.  Thus ALL OF THE APOSTOLIC EPISTLES (from Romans through Jude) NEVER mention hades!  Wow!  Were the Apostles not concerned about a subject which now dominates the sermons of so many preachers?


Of the ten usages of hades, Luke 16:23 is the only one which, on the surface, would seem to challenge the word’s true meaning of oblivion.  It is a part of a parable, and is, therefore, not literal.  BUT—the meaning remains constant.  The Rich Man represents the NATION of ISRAEL which, in Jesus’ day, was cast into OBLIVION where it remained until its national resurrection’s beginning in 1948.


The final two uses of hades in the Bible are in Revelation 20:13, 14.  In both of these cases we see that hell cannot be eternal torment because it “delivers up the dead which were in” it, and hell, itself, is cast into a ”lake of fire” which the Revelator interprets for us.  He says it is dying a second time.  Thus dying and the oblivion of death are destroyed (“burned”). 




This word occurs only once (in II Peter2:4).  It is not an equivalent of “hades” or any other word.  It comes from Greek mythology in which the Titans are banished from the presence of the other gods.  You will notice that Peter does not apply it to humans.  He applies it to the “fallen angels” of Noah’s day.  His point is that these “fallen angels” have been restricted to the earth’s atmosphere—banned from heaven—until the judgment of the “great day” (the Millennial Age).  These “fallen angels” are the demons which Jesus cast out of people who were possessed by them.  They are the “ghosts” which “haunt” various places.  Their history and current restraints are documented in Genesis 6:1-4 and Jude 6.  This word, tartaroo, has no legitimate part in the subject of “hell.”




The third word to be translated “hell” or “hell-fire” in the New Testament is gehenna.  The word comes from the name of the valley outside Jerusalem which was used as the city incinerator for all of its trash.  Fire, worms, and added sulfur all combined to destroy totally all that was cast into that valley.


Gehenna is used eleven times in the New Testament.  Much like “Hades,” it does not pervade New Testament writings.  It occurs ONLY in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and once in the epistle of James.  Other than James’ usage, Jesus is the only person to use the word!  Jesus adopts it as the perfect word to represent the “second death” which Revelation chapters 2, 20, and 21 mention.  Gehenna represents the death from which there will be no awakening or resurrection.  Jesus uses the term to WARN all that, even though there WILL BE an awakening of all from death, persistence in character corruption might well lead people into an incorrigible state which will prevent true repentance.  Thus they would be in danger of dying A SECOND TIME—eternal oblivion without any prospect of returning to life.  THIS is the meaning of Gehenna and of “second death.” 


When James uses the term (James 3:6), he uses it as Jesus did.  James warns that the tongue can become so uncontrolled as to poison a character to the point where it cannot be reconciled to God.  Thus James shows that Christians now and the general world later can both corrupt their characters to the point of eventual and eternal extinction.




Eternal torment in a place called “hell” is a concept totally inconsistent with both the character of God and with His Word, the Bible.  The judgment of all humans now for their eternal destiny is equally inconsistent with Scripture and with a loving God Who (by statistical observations) would seem to be losing the battle for human salvation.  We recommend to you THE TRUTH instead!  It is Biblical; it is rational; it is satisfying to the heart!





We would like to offer to those who are interested a booklet which carefully examines EVERY SCRIPTURE in the Bible concerning the subject of "hell." It is entitled, WHERE ARE THE DEAD?


For your free copy, click on the Contact Us, or send your request by mail to:

New Albany – Louisville Bible Students

P.O. Box 197

New Albany IN  47151-0197